Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Gets Last Licks In

Just when I thought we were through with this annus horribilis, 2020 proved it was still capable of causing mischief. The last week of 2020 brought me some bad news. But it wasn't all bad news. The good news is that by the time my test results came back confirming my suspicions, my symptoms were already disappearing or already gone.

Symptoms, you ask. Symptoms of what? That's the bad news. I've been tested for COVID-19 and the test results came back positive. It was a nasal swab PCR test. It was irritating, but not intolerably so. What was more irritating is feeling that Ellen and I have been good at wearing facemasks, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, etc. And yet I still caught it. It's a nasty disease.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Midnight Sky (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Midnight Sky (2020): After planetary disaster, the last man on Earth tells astronauts from Jupiter not to come home. Science and space, right? Then why the wolf attack during a blizzard in Arctic? Plot is goofy. Characters forgettable. Connecting element contrived. C+

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Undoing (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Undoing (TV 2020): A whodunnit that will keep you guessing 'til the end. I wanted to yell at Nicole Kidman, "Don't listen to your husband," and "Get your own lawyer." I couldn't believe she'd play the role of a weak woman. Turns out she was stronger than she was revealing. A-

Monday, December 28, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020): Crystal in museum gem collection grants people's wishes, most of them bad. WW must get people to revoke their wishes before civilization ends. Villains are more like spoiled children than evil masterminds. Not even Gal Gadot can save this bad sequel. C-

Friday, December 25, 2020

POTD: I'll Be Home for Christmas

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Dallas Museum of Art. It's a detail from Alex Da Corte's neon ghost house, "Rubber Pencil Devil" ("2018, glass, aluminum, vinyl, velvet, neon, Plexiglas, high res digital video, color, sound"). It's part of the exhibition "For a Dreamer of Houses".

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943 during World War II. It was written to honor the millions of soldiers and sailors overseas who longed to be home at Christmas time. It still strikes a chord with people who are prevented from being with family at Christmas, especially this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bonus photo after the jump.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

POTD: Crocs

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from a Nubian village on the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. In Texas, the house decoration might be Longhorn skulls. In Egypt, it's crocodile skulls.

Bonus photo after the jump.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

How To with John Wilson (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
How To with John Wilson (TV 2020): Quirky looks at subjects from everyday life (scaffolding, risotto, plastic furniture covers) that lead Wilson to quirky people. Part documentary, part comedy. Much of the humor comes from the film snippets he pairs with his commentary. B-

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Great Conjunction 2020

Nature cooperated (for me anyway). Clear skies, warm temperatures, longest night of the year. That's Jupiter on the left. The slightly oblong smudge on the right is Saturn. None of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn are distinct enough with my camera to be visible in this photo. So, in the second photo, it's our Moon. By the way, if you didn't catch this last night, go out tonight, or tomorrow night, or the next. Jupiter and Saturn will be drifting away from each other only slowly, so they'll be putting on a celestial minuet in the southwestern sky soon after sunset for the next few weeks.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020): Adapted stage play about a 1927 recording session by the "Mother of the Blues." She demands respect. Her band's ambitious young trumpet player wants a shot at stardom. Energy like a tea kettle about to boil over. Deserves Oscar nominations. A-

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Flight Attendant (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Flight Attendant (TV 2020): Woman on layover in Bangkok wakes up with a dead man in her bed. Murderer and police are both after her. So is her alcoholism. Kaley Cuoco's performance is surprisingly good. Too many bad guys, too many murders, too many confusing subplots. B-

Friday, December 18, 2020

Let Them All Talk (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Let Them All Talk (2020): Author takes a cruise ship to England to receive an award and takes two old friends with her. There's time for lots of conversation, enough to surface long suppressed issues. Watching Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest work is a joy. B-

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Parsing the Reasons Why the City Council Said No

The Richardson City Council voted unanimously to reject a plan to build a five story apartment building on the George Bush Tollway just north of the coming Silver Line station by UT-Dallas. You might think if there's anywhere an apartment building just might get approved, it's on a property like that: on a freeway, near public transit and a large (and growing) university, and nowhere near a single family neighborhood. But the City Council said "no." Let's parse the reasons why.

POTD: Nubian Woman

Caption
From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from a Nubian village on the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The woman is hawking souvenirs to tourists.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

An Unintended Benefit of COVID-19 Denial

Different countries have adopted different strategies to control the coronavirus. New Zealand, for example, imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns and, perhaps as a result, New Zealanders are looking at a Christmas season free of any restrictions. Sweden, on the other hand, shunned lockdowns in the belief that so-called "herd immunity" would soon follow. Perhaps as a result, Sweden had a death rate much higher than its neighbors. Its prime minister has admitted that the country misjudged its response.

What about the US? As you might expect, our response continues to be divided along tribal lines.

Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Dick Johnson is Dead (2020): Documentary filmmaker and her aging father use his mental and physical decline as the inspiration to stage various accidental deaths for him on camera. It's their way of laughing death in the face. Eccentric and heartfelt. Bittersweet. B+

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

POTD: Nubian Village

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from a Nubian village on the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. Nubia is home to ancient empires. A brief history from Wikipedia blows me away with the scale of time you have to comprehend to have even a loose grasp of Egyptian history.

Nubia "was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Africa, the Kerma culture, which lasted from around 2500 BC until its conquest by the New Kingdom of Egypt under Pharaoh Thutmose I around 1500 BC. Nubia was home to several empires, most prominently the kingdom of Kush, which conquered Egypt in eighth-century BC during the reign of Piye and ruled the country as its 25th Dynasty (to be replaced a century later by the native Egyptian 26th Dynasty). Kush's collapse in fourth century AD was preceded by an invasion from Ethiopia's Kingdom of Aksum and the rise of three Christian kingdoms: Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia. Makuria and Alodia lasted for roughly a millennium. Their eventual decline started not only the partition of Nubia, which was split into the northern half conquered by the Ottomans and the southern half by the Sennar sultanate, in the sixteenth century, but also a rapid Islamization and partial Arabization of the Nubian people. Nubia was reunited with the Khedivate of Egypt in the nineteenth century. Today, the region of Nubia is split between Egypt and Sudan."

A bonus photo (with camels) is after the jump.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Covid-19 vaccine: first US doses given to frontline workers

The headlines are matter-of-fact, understating the historic importance of the event. Making more of an impact was the TV shot of the couple at the airport in Michigan near the vaccine distribution center who came out to watch the first plane carrying the vaccine take off. The woman said she had to come out in person to witness the event. She described the significance of it as like watching the moon landing.

Mank (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Mank (2020): Biopic of Herman Mankiewicz and the writing of Citizen Kane. Has look and feel of that great movie. See that movie first. Mank is a talented alcoholic inspired to greatness by his subject matter. Movie is filled with the sharp, fast, cutting dialog you'd expect. B+

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Prom (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Prom (2020): Musical starts off wrong (Broadway divas mocking small town Indiana) but eventually settles into an acceptable groove (protecting lesbian teens from ostracism at school and home). Meryl Streep and James Corden are all in, unironically, keeping me watching. B-

Friday, December 11, 2020

Review: The Glass Hotel

From The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel:

Open
quote Begin at the end: plummeting down the side of the ship in the storm’s wild darkness, breath gone with the shock of falling, my camera flying away through the rain—" The Glass Hotel
Amazon
A novel like shattered glass reassembled at random. Read it all the way to the end and you eventually get the full story of rootless characters whose lives seem repeatedly shattered and reassembled. Does anyone find peace in the end? Maybe a little.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

POTD: Camel Caravan

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt.

Bonus photos after the jump.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Dash & Lily (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Dash & Lily (TV 2020): Lily leaves a notebook on a bookstore's shelf, with clues and dares challenging the finder to get to know her. Dash finds it and is hooked on the game, or is it a courtship? Whatever, it is a sweet rom-com. Christmas in New York never looked so inviting. A-

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

POTD: Arrested Development in Egypt

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. As for the "Arrested Development" reference, well, you have to be a fan of the TV show.

Monday, December 7, 2020

I Hate Suzie (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
I Hate Suzie (TV 2020): So do I. Leaked sex pics ruin an actress's career and marriage. Eight episodes take her through the stages of grief (shock, denial, fear, shame, I skipped episodes 5-7, acceptance). Great acting, but more like acting exercises than an interesting story. C-

Friday, December 4, 2020

Roadkill (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Roadkill (TV 2020): British cabinet minister juggling crises: cabinet infighting, financial scandal, infidelity, an adult daughter he didn't know he had. Four episodes go too fast to develop all the subplots and give the characters their due. Hugh Laurie makes a good rogue. B-

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020): Too long at beginning and end, and the bad guys aren't bad enough, but it scores as a feel-good, old-style, Christmas musical with showstopping song and dance numbers (not enough of them). Crazy costumes. Could be a classic. B+

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

POTD: The Gift of the Nile

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. Egypt is called the "gift of the Nile." This photos shows why. It shows the river, the green river bank, and behind, stretching all the way across Africa, the desert. Egypt captured in one photo.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Random Thoughts: Ballsy Move by Linda Koop

Tweets from November, 2020:
  • 2020-11-01: Ballsy move by Linda Koop.
  • 2020-11-01: Linda Koop throws Trump under the bus (but with plausible deniability).
  • 2020-11-01: Tonight's the night to set our clocks back. I just realized that because of coronavirus we don't use our cars enough for it to matter. Wait six months and hope it'll be under control
  • 2020-11-01: "Boris Johnson accused of 'giving in to scientific advisers' as England heads for lockdown." Sounds like something a medieval cardinal might warn the Pope against concerning Galileo. "Giving in to science." Let that sink in.

After the jump, more random thoughts.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Between the World and Me (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Between the World and Me (2020): Documentary. Readings from Ta-Nehisi Coates' 2015 letter to his son, passing on his wisdom of what it means to be Black in America. Faithful to the book, even more relevant in this year of Black Lives Matter. See the movie, then read the book. B+

See what I thought of the book: "Between the World and Me".

Friday, November 27, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Hillbilly Elegy (2020): Forget the book. The movie is not a look at white, working-class alienation in hollowed-out steel and coal country. It's a soap opera about three generations of a dysfunctional family. Mostly depressing. Critics hated it; I kind of liked it. B-

Read what I thought of the book here: Review: Hillbilly Elegy.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

POTD: Little Egret

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Happy Thanksgiving! What kind of bird is on your table? Surely not one of these beautiful birds. Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds. Today's photo is of a Little Egret.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Succession - Season 2 (TV 2019)

Rotten Tomatoes
Succession - Season 2 (TV 2019): The noose tightens around Logan Roy's empire. Debt, Congressional hearings, hostile takeover, skittish shareholders, scandals and backstabbing. It couldn't happen to a more evil family. Not the Trumps, but close. Lots of deserved Emmy nods. B+

Read the Season 1 review.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Ordeal by Innocence (TV 2018)

Rotten Tomatoes
Ordeal by Innocence (TV 2018): 3 episode adaptation of Agatha Christie mystery. Matriarch of large, rich family is murdered. Plenty of suspects. The relationships are as tangled as the possible motives. Killer can be figured out (I didn't), as can the twist (I did, kinda). B-

#VeryTardyReview

Monday, November 23, 2020

Partisan Nonpartisan Elections

School and municipal elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. I say "supposed to be" loosely. There's no law about this. For practical purposes "nonpartisan" just means that "R" and "D" don't appear after candidates' names on the ballot. Everything else is just custom and tradition. Over the last few elections, those customs seem to be breaking down.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Review: Piranesi

From Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke:

Open quoteI am determined to explore as much of the World as I can in my lifetime. To this end I have travelled as far as the Nine-Hundred-and-Sixtieth Hall to the West, the Eight-Hundred-and-Ninetieth Hall to the North and the Seven-Hundred-and-Sixty-Eighth Hall to the South." Piranesi
Amazon
This is a wonderfully imagined world consisting of a mansion with endless halls filled with marble statues, populated solely by Piranesi and the mysterious "Other." Is it real? Fantasy? Magical realism? It'll keep you guessing all the way to the end.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Schitt's Creek - Seasons 1-6 (TV 2015-2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Schitt's Creek - Seasons 1-6 (TV 2015-2020): Family of rich snobs goes bankrupt and ends up living in a cheap motel in Schitt's Creek. A sitcom with heart that reminded me of Green Acres. You either love it or hate it. Excellent ensemble cast creates unforgettable characters. B+

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

POTD: African Swamphen

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds. Today's photo is of an African Swamphen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

POTD: Pied Kingfishers

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds. Today's photo is of two Pied Kingfishers.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Dolittle (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Dolittle (2020): Dr. Dolittle is not a swashbuckling sea captain on an adventure to find the Tree of Eden. Plot is plodding. Dialog is dull. Robert Downey Jr is wasted in a lethargic role. Good CGI animals. Maybe little kids will like that, but that's about it. C-

Friday, November 13, 2020

POTD: Goliath Heron

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Decompressing from the election, it's time for something completely different. Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds. Today's photo is of a Goliath Heron.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

POTD: Osprey

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Decompressing from the election, it's time for something completely different. Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds. Today's photo is of an Osprey.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

POTD: Grey Heron

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
Decompressing from the election, it's time for something completely different. Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds. Today's photo is of a Grey Heron.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb (2020): Documentary about the recent discovery and excavation of a noble's tomb near Cairo. Some scenes show the nearby step pyramid, which we visited just after this documentary was filmed. It needs fewer scenes of digging and more history. C+

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Queen's Gambit (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Queen's Gambit (TV 2020): Orphaned chess prodigy works through childhood traumas, struggles with alcohol and pills, and her own genius. It's a "sports movie" like no other. None of the usual characters act to cliched form. It's her life story that steals our attention. A+

Friday, November 6, 2020

Review: A Burning

From A Burning, by Megha Majumdar:

Open quoteThe night before, I had been at the railway station, no more than a fifteen-minute walk from my house. I ought to have seen the men who stole up to the open windows and threw flaming torches into the halted train. But all I saw were carriages, burning, their doors locked from the outside and dangerously hot." A Burning
Amazon

A Burning is a debut novel by an Indian woman, born in Kolkata and now living in the United States. Its three featured characters are all from the poorer classes, and all seek to rise to middle class. Their prospects intersect and cross.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Emily in Paris (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
Emily in Paris (TV 2020): Young American Instagram influencer gets transferred to Paris where she flirts with every handsome or rich French man. Could be a 1960s TV show updated for today, maybe "Gidget Gets Laid." Every cliche about French snobbery and dumb American overseas. C+

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

POTD: Senegal Thick-Knees

From 2019 11 19 Aswan
While the last few states are still counting their votes (get it done, get it right), it's time for something completely different. Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt. The Nile riverbanks are home to countless birds, almost all of them new and interesting to someone from North America. Today's photo shows two Senegal thick-knees.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Consequences of (Secret) Compromise

Fifty-eight years ago in October, the world came closer to nuclear war than at any other time in history. I'm talking about what's become known as the "Cuban Missile Crisis". We're alive to talk about it today because war didn't break out. Why didn't it break out? A peaceful compromise was found.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Random Thoughts: Alexa, Change the President

Tweets from October, 2020:
  • 2020-10-01: Me: "Alexa, change the President."
    Alexa: "Sorry, I'm not sure."
    Alexa must be the last undecided person in America.
  • 2020-10-01: "Insects have been around for 480 million years, solving nearly every problem nature has dealt them. Maybe it's worth listening to what they have to say." -- Natalie Angier
  • 2020-10-01: "Stand back. Stand by." -- Donald Trump.
    "Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed." -- George W Bush, after Charlottesville in 2017.
    There. That's not hard, is it, Mr. President?

After the jump, more random thoughts.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

POTD: Spooky Halloween

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Dallas Museum of Art. It's from "Rubber Pencil Devil," by Alex Da Corte, ("2018, glass, aluminum, vinyl, velvet, neon, Plexiglas, high res digital video, color, sound"). It's part of the exhibition "For a Dreamer of Houses".

Friday, October 30, 2020

Barry - Season 1 (TV 2018)

Rotten Tomatoes
Barry - Season 1 (TV 2018): A poignant comedy about a vet with PTSD who turns hit man. On a trip to LA he decides to quit his job and go to acting class. Can he turn his life around? Unlikely stars Bill Hader and Henry Winkler pull it off. Acting lessons are a bonus. B+

#VeryTardyReview

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Pale Horse (TV 2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Pale Horse (TV 2020): Two episode adaptation of Agatha Christie's mystery novel. People are dying. A list of names, including our hero, is found. Police suspect him. He suspects witches. WTH? Convoluted plot but it kind of works out. Good period piece of 1961 England. C+

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Way I See It (2020)

Rotten Tomatoes
The Way I See It (2020): Documentary about Pete Souza, White House photographer for President Obama. It's at its best when it lets his photographs do the talking. It's not as good when it expands to include video and photos taken by others. Souza's "Shade" was a surprise hit. B-

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Identity Politics" in the 1860 Election

In a review of a biography of Abraham Lincoln in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik makes a couple of throwaway observations of the 1860 campaign for the Republican nomination for President, observations about parallels to today's world.
The Lincolnians also courted a now often overlooked interest group, the √©migr√© Germans, including many exiled by the failed liberal revolutions of 1848. As [Sidney] Blumenthal notes, Lincoln had bought a German-language newspaper, in order to appeal to those key players of the “identity politics” of the time. (It was the equivalent of surreptitiously funding Facebook pages in 2020.)

Identity politics. Facebook. Both in a paragraph about the election of 1860. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, October 26, 2020

POTD: For a Dreamer of Houses

Today's photo-of-the-day is from the Dallas Museum of Art. It shows "Rubber Pencil Devil," by Alex Da Corte, ("2018, glass, aluminum, vinyl, velvet, neon, Plexiglas, high res digital video, color, sound"). It's part of the exhibition "For a Dreamer of Houses".

Bonus photo after the jump.